The recent ‘near’ breach of a 19th century reservoir in the UK caused the temporary evacuation of an entire town. The reservoir dam structure was built in around 1840 as part of the brilliant UK canal network. The weakness to the structure was caused by a high intensity rainfall event causing the concrete apron on the overspill of the dam to become dislodged and then eroding some of the earth structure underneath. Engineers have obviously been examining the structure and reasons for the damage and whilst we all need to be aware and prepare for these increasing high intensity weather events, I suspect that a lack of maintenance or upgrade is the main cause of the problem.
Whilst we all take for granted the fantastic engineering structures of past centuries that are still operating to provide us with the benefits of foresight that these structures represent – they still require periodic maintenance or modification to transition to the demands of the 21st century – although it seems to me that many of the operators of our current utility and infrastructure businesses are more interested in financial engineering (milking assets) rather than ‘proper’ engineering – and I believe that unless this changes instances such as Whaley Bridge reservoir will unfortunately become more common.
However, the issue I really want to address is something else that this near disaster highlights – which is that whilst the water utility reservoirs are at a relatively low level following a dry winter last year and continuing to be so – why are we not utilising the water from these high rainfall events to increase our stored capacity? If water was collected in the catchments and stored in a relatively large number of small reservoirs then not only would this reduce the downstream flows of water and mitigate flooding – but it would also increase our national water storage capacity.
At the same time of the Whaley Bridge incident one of our customers further south in the UK found that his spring water supply had suddenly halved in flow and although he initially assumed that his Papa Pump may have required servicing – on investigation he was informed that the regional water utility had switched on their deep electric bore hole pumps which had then substantially drained the aquifer! This is problematic for a number of reasons – not least because it is these aquifers and springs that flow from them that are the engines of our river system and therefore whilst (like oil drilling) there is no directly visible effect – the long term effects are probably worse than pumping more water directly from the rivers. Obviously, there are a number of other factors that effect our river flows such as the draining of marshes and bogs etc.
However, this clearly indicates the current problems – and the solution is obviously not just sinking more bore hole pumps – which has been the government/industry solution or supposedly ‘cheap alternative’ for many decades!
Myself and WPT have been advocating the utilisation of our water powered pumping systems in conjunction with new high level farm based land water storage reservoirs for many years to assist in addressing these interconnected water issues. As usual the issue is primarily finance and who pays/benefits from the solutions. The answer to this is like the Whaley Bridge reservoir and canal networks – we all ultimately benefit from long term low energy water systems – however, the problem as always is convincing policy makers and accountants!
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